Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Victim Report

After a rather wonderful trip through eastern France, a few sun soaked weeks in our village in Spain, a fascinating return through western France including a visit to the Bayeaux Tapestry and finally a few days in Dublin babysitting our latest grandson, we caught the ferry from Dublin to Liverpool. We zoomed down the M6 through darkness, rain and road works to take a few delicious couple of pints real ale in a Cotswold pub and then home to Stow on the Wold. Then, disaster! This is the report I wrote at the request of the local police:

On Tuesday 25/10/2017 we returned to England after a six week absence. I unlocked the door to our home and moved a few letters to the side. I then looked up and saw an unbelievable mess in the corridor leading to the office: papers everywhere and my briefcase open on the floor. I cautiously advanced towards the office passing the under stairs cupboard where we keep our booze – all gone, or so I thought, the office in a terrible mess and the fireproof safe open, documents scattered every which way. Margaret thought at first that I was joking when I told her, then she saw the carnage.
Upstairs our bedroom was a tip. All of the many drawers open or thrown onto the floor; the bed was covered in my wife’s jewellery containers, all open and mostly empty; clothing lay scattered all over the floor – what a mess. The rest of the house had been similarly frisked, though the office and our bedroom suffered the most, the kitchen and dining room the least.

It took me quite a while to determine how the bastards had got it. Both locks to the patio doors in  the lounge had been wrenched off from the outside, difficult to detect at first because the caring burglar(s) had closed the sliding glass door on exit.

How did we feel? Depressed more than anything else, but also shocked and despoiled. Money had been stolen, but the overbearing feeling is the intrusion by a stranger into one’s life and the removal of things that are dear to the heart. Margaret’s jewellery was of no great resale value but of immense emotional worth – the most poignant thing things that were taken were the items of jewellery that our daughter, Sheena, was wearing when she died.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Cataluña: a little too close for comfort?

Seventeen years ago we made a big mistake! We bought an old house with fantastic views in the Spanish village of La Fresneda for less than you would pay for a Tesla electric car nowadays.  We loved it and still love it – so what was the mistake? Location of course, isn’t it always location? Our village is not on or near the coast, in fact it’s in the lower part of Aragon which is called Teruel, a province that the Spanish say “Nobody goes to and nobody comes from”. No problem there at all, quite the opposite in fact to, say, Oxford or Barcelona with their dense populations and overbearing popularity with visiting tourists. And there I’ve said it. Barcelona, that’s the problem, that was our mistake. The local area in which our village lies is called the Matarraña and on its eastern border is Catalunia. What’s more, the people of this area look towards Barcelona rather than the Aragonese capital of Zaragoza, and the people of the Matarraña speak Catalan. Yes Catalan, not Spanish.

I’m sure you all know that Cataluña leapt onto the world stage on the first of October 2017 by holding an illegal referendum which asked the question: should Cataluña leave Spain and become an independent state? This was not unexpected, and nor was the violence which followed. It is claimed that nine hundred were injured in the tussles involving what some commentators called police brutality, yet in this massive conflagration there were only four cases of hospitalisation – which is odd.

Our own observations were not first hand, but through the 24hours Spanish TV station. And during a day that the government of the country called a transgression of the constitution, we saw the Catalan police standing back leaving the national Guardia Civil to face the sectarian fervour. Yes, we did see policemen battering through glass doorways, throwing a fat old man to the ground and pulling a woman around by their hair. One shot which was repeated over and over was of a balding man pointing to the top of his head, the camera drew closer and closer, but still we could see no sign of injury. However, there were shots of bleeding faces and of a policeman elbowing someone in the face. What we did not see is what preceded each of these injuries, but there can be little doubt that some injuries resulted from unrestrained police reaction and others from deliberate taunting of the police. Many thought that it would have been better to allow the referendum to go ahead without resistance and then ignore the result since it has no legal force – perhaps they were right.

The outcome was declared as a massive victory for independence from the Catalan government, but the truth is that most voters stayed at home. A poll taken before the referendum showed that only 40% supported independence. In fact less than 40% bothered to vote at all and, not surprisingly these were nearly all secessionists. There is also evidence that in this uncontrolled referendum where voters could choose their polling station many chose to vote at more than one! This was clearly not a legal or an electoral basis for UDI.

Within Spain we have seen massive support for the government’s stance and the world in general has reacted predictably and mostly in ignorance of the true situation here. Travelling through Cataluña one can see posters saying “Welcome to Europe’s newest state”, yet the EU was quick to support the Spanish constitution. After all they hardly want to give the green light to the many communities within their member states that would rather be ruled from Brussels that their own capital cities. In La Fresneda reaction has been muted, though Margaret tells me that she heard a local character Phillipe shout that he was both Spanish and Catalan as he argued with the local carpenter over the matter. Personally I do not know of one person in our area that supports the secessionists though there must be some. When I ask locals what they think about the issue they shake their heads and say either ‘mal’ or ‘loco’ – bad or crazy.

What is little known outside of Spain is that Cataluña, along with others, is an ‘autonomous community’. This means that the local government has a control of most important matters, including health, education and transport, why they even have their own police force, the Mossos. What’s more they are allowed to impose their own language on children – which itself must contribute to their sense of separateness.  My grandsons were born and educated in Cataluña. This meant that not only had they to learn Catalan, they were also taught in it.  Think about that for a moment. Naturally they also have to learn the Spanish national language (here known as Castellano). So what’s the consequence? Not much time for English, the second language of the world. In fact only one of our three Spanish grandsons speaks English at all well.

There are plenty of nice things that can be said of Cataluña and the Catalan culture, but if they succeed in this minority led quest for independence then they will inherit a damning reputation as the people who broke up Spain and ruined the Spanish and Catalan economies. And for what? So that certain politicians can become leaders of a country instead of an autonomous community. And so that the youngsters inspired by them find that their prospects are diminished whilst their ‘own’ politicians turn out to be as divided and untrustable as ‘that lot in Madrid’. Read Orwell’s Animal Farm young ones – the truth is there.

And our mistake in buying a property in a Catalan speaking part of Spain? Well, at least I can use it as an excuse for my poor Spanish. This much bigger mistake, this attempt to divide and destroy a great and historical nation which takes pride in its diversity cannot be shrugged off so lightly. Let us just hope theta there will be no more violence.